Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 3: Braised Zucchini and Leeks

The summer of my senior year of college, I read Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat. I had just had to have my choir dress let out a little, and felt like emergency action was required.

What I remember from the book is the philosophy of thoughtfully eating what you like.  Guiliano doesn't frown on dessert, but she encourages eating one piece of quality bittersweet chocolate over eating a frosted Krispy Kreme doughnut or half a bag of M&Ms.  She writes about facing a craving for an apple pastry head on by eating slow roasted apples cooked in cabbage leaves.

(Who are we kidding?  Cabbage leaves instead of layer upon layer of crisp buttery pastry??  As I type this, I'm struck that she would likely support a cake that substitutes zucchini for Coca-Cola.)

But the concepts are good.  If you love the apple flavor, don't substitute a cheap, unsatisfying fiber bar - eat real apples.  Just limit yourself on the fats and sugars the majority of the time.

Guiliano also shares the diet plan that her family's doctor advised for her after she put on weight in the United States.  For the first 48 hours, she ate only what she deemed "Magical Leek Soup."  In glowing terms she describes how this was the catalyst of her life-long love for sweet, buttery leeks.  She drank the delicious and nourishing leek broth several times a day, and whenever she got hungry she would eat a boiled leek with a little olive oil and cracked pepper.  Not only were these leeks delectable, they filled her up; and she still lost some significant pounds (or kilos).

I was sold.

The enthusiasm oozing from the book infected me, and I determined loudly that I too was going to have a life changing leek weekend.  There were just a few tiny details to sort out.

"What is a leek?"  I asked my mom.

She told me it was like an onion. That planted the first tiny seed of doubt in my mind.  But I liked onions, and maybe something magical really did happen when it was boiled in water.

My doubt grew at the grocery store.  There was certainly nothing magical looking about those thick white stalks with ends like green crepe paper.  Nevertheless, I left the store loaded up with determination and an armful of leeks.

Now my sister Leah, ten years my junior, told me with a generous smile that she was going to do the leek challenge with me.

In her words, "Diets are hard, but it's easier if someone is doing it with you."

Not the only time Leah has lent me support.

We went running the first night.  High on endorphin's and camaraderie, we sat down to our first meal of leeks.

Leah looked at it dubiously.  "Is this it?"

"Yes!"  I had my own misgivings, but put on a brave (proud) face, and ate that leek.

Let me tell you something.  Boiling a leek in water, drizzling olive oil on it, and passing a pepper grinder over it does not make it anything other than what it is: a water logged, oily, peppery leek.  That is not magic.  That is barely edible.

It is a testament to Leah's generous personality and tenacious selflessness that she continued to eat those leeks with me.  We drank leek water broth for breakfast and ate boiled leeks for lunch and dinner.  With each meal my mood worsened, and Leah got a little quieter.  By the second full day, I wanted to skip breakfast rather than have anything to do with a leek.  But I was too hungry to pass up the opportunity to eat before heading out to the county fair for the day.

At the fair, my head was swimming.  All around me were the bright banners of food trucks and the smell of fried food.  I snapped at everyone who tried to get me to walk around with them insisted on sitting by myself on a park bench.

My dad, wise, wise Dad, came over carrying a flimsy cardboard sandwich box holding a pulled pork sandwich.  White provolone was melting into the pork and the cardboard was dotted with promising grease spots.

"Eat this," he said holding it out.

"No," I snapped.  "Go away."

"Eat. It."  And he held it up to my mouth.

I can still taste that pulled pork sandwich.

An old proverb says that hunger is the best ingredient.  And hunger was working mightily with pork and provolone that day.

After finishing the sandwich, I found Leah and let her know.  She got in line for a taco salad.

Amazingly, I still eat leeks.  They really are delicious and buttery and sweet.  But for now I prefer them with other ingredients and not boiled.  When I was looking through the recipes Jesse sent me, I saw a recipe for braised zucchini and leeks.  There was no question I had to try it.

This is not a pretty dish. I couldn't find any pretty pictures online, and mine aren't pretty either.  But the dish is toothsome and easy to make.  It calls for six cups of zucchini, and I was not prepared for how it cooked down.  Those six cups of raw zucchini yielded about 3 cups of cooked zucchini.

The braised zucchini and leeks had surprising flavor for being cooked with just a pat of butter, salt and a little garlic.  I love sauteed zucchini, but the braised zucchini was better. Cooking it for so long seemed to draw out all the bitterness and instead of being mushy like I feared, they were cooked down to perfectly tender.  All of this permeated with the sweet, buttery (dare I say magical) flavor of leeks.

Braised Zucchini and Leeks
from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon of butter
2 leeks, sliced thin
6 cups of finely chopped zucchini
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add leeks and cook for two minutes.  Add zucchini, salt and garlic; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 20 minutes .Stir occasionally (try to do better at this than I did).  Remove cover and cook 10 more minutes or until most of the liquid is cooked off.  Serve immediately (or immediately after taking pictures).


  1. This was good - "There were just a few tiny details to sort out. "What is a leek?" I asked my mom."
    Yeah, I don't think this recipe is going to win any beauty contests, but I bet it is tasty. I don't know if I could convince Mr. H to try this one. He's not into onions, so I doubt he would go for leeks, but maybe I could make a half recipe for myself.

    1. Haha, thanks! Mr. H might not be able to taste the onion flavor. It cooks down so much you can't even tell there are onions in there. But do try it and let me know what you think! Maybe you can make a pretty version.


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